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Book Review

'My Salinger Year' Is An Irresistible Literary Memoir


In the mid-1990s, when the Grande Dame of Literary Agents could still-- possibly, even credibly-- think that computers in the workplace were a passing fad, Joanna Rakoff, at age 23, took a job as her assistant.

My Salinger Year is Rakoff’s irresistible memoir of the year she assisted this unnamed legendary agent whose clients included Judy Blume and, most importantly, the elusive and private J. D. Salinger—known as "Jerry" to those in the office.

Having graduated college and pursuing a writing career, the young and plucky Rakoff is living with her older and less-than-perfect aspiring writer-cynic boyfriend. By chance, she is hired, and unlike a few others previously in the job, she survives, and even thrives, in her position.

The job allows her access to the great halls of the literary world. She attends exclusive New Yorker events and book parties. She is the first to learn of new talent and how to care for established writers.

Joanna replies to all the fan mail written to J.D. Salinger. The reply, a form letter explaining that Salinger will not receive the heartfelt and intimate letters, begins to seem way too impersonal. She reserves Fridays to deal with the mail, if she has time. Resisting protocol, Joanna answers a couple of the letters personally, and the results of that effort are interesting, to say the least.

There is so much in this beguiling memoir of a first job and how it informs one’s future, of a time of great change—from Dictaphone and selectric typewriters, to faxes and word processors. This coming-of-age story is a perfect summer read.